Are you sticking with the old or doubling down on the new?

by. Ron Daly

We had a great time last week in San Diego at the CUES CETNET conference. The weather was close enough to perfect for us Virginians (the California folks seemed to think that a 70° day was a little chilly) and downright hot to the Wisconsinites. But better than the weather were the many discussions, talks and breakout sessions we attended.

One that sticks with me, a man trying to extol the virtues of “going digital”, was the opening general session. Rita McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School, gave a talk about the “End of Competitive Advantage”. I took a lot of careful notes because what she was talking about is something that DigitalMailer deals with a lot. Her talk started with the comparison of two companies in the same field – one of them Fujifilm, the other, Kodak.

In the 1980′s and on into the 90′s, the writing was on the wall – digital photography was coming and film would soon stop being the key component of picture taking. Kodak knew it. Fujifilm knew it. The two companies had a difficult choice to make:

  1. Stick with film, the old technology that had been the key to income for both companies for years, or
  2. Double down on digital and find new buyers and new markets for the chemicals required to make undeveloped film.

Kodak picked option 1, Fujifilm went with option 2. Today, Kodak’s bankrupt while Fujifilm thrives. Rita McGrath laid all of this out beautifully and talked about this “tipping point” in the life cycle of both companies. One company let go of its advantage to focus on the future. The other enjoyed a brief moment of triumph but spent billions trying to play “catch-up”.

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